As the expansion of renewable energy accelerates, the transformative potential of moving away from fossil fuel reliance is becoming increasingly clear. Around the world, individuals, communities, organizations, cities, states, and countries are recognizing that renewable energy offers much more than just reliable clean electricity, pollution reductions, and climate mitigation. In addition to these environmental benefits, the renewable energy revolution also provides potential to transform society by redistributing jobs, wealth, health, and political power more equitably.
Energy democracy is a growing social movement that prioritizes this potential for redistributing power to the people through renewable transformation. Energy democracy acknowledges how fossil-fuel-based energy systems and the associated massive corporate profits of large multinational energy companies have perpetuated inequities, exacerbated disparate vulnerabilities, and promoted widespread injustices among and within communities around the world. By highlighting the negative societal impacts of fossil-fuel-based concentration of power and wealth, the principles of energy democracy connect energy system change with an associated transformation toward a more socially just and equal society.1
Energy democracy recognizes that replacing fossil-fuel-based infrastructure with renewables is much more than a technological substitution; the social changes associated with this transition could be transformative. Energy democracy focuses on harnessing this progressive social change potential by embracing a vision of more distributed, locally based energy systems with a regionally appropriate mix of different renewable sources satisfying 100% of society’s energy needs.
Whether the renewable energy transition delivers on this potential of redistributing power depends, however, on how renewable energy is deployed, and who is included and excluded in the benefits of a renewable-based society. The energy democracy vision, therefore, provides a valuable lens to guide participation, governance, and priorities of the renewable energy revolution. Advancing the vision of the energy democracy movement requires prioritizing local and community-controlled renewables and scaling-up and mainstreaming cooperative-model, publicly owned energy infrastructure.2